The Jammu and Kashmir government has begun the use of Rapid Antibody Test kits in the red zones areas across the Union Territory to check the community spread of the disease. Jammu and Kashmir has received the Rapid Antibody Tests, kits from the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). The Union territory of Jammu and Kashmir has recorded over 368 positive cases with the majority of them being reported from the Kashmir valley. Over 100 places have been declared as a red zone by the authorities where the entry and exit of the people have been prohibited and now the authorities have started conducting tests in these red zones.
Professor and Head, Department of Microbiology at Government Medical College Jammu, Shashi, informed about the measures being implemented by GMC to contain the spread of this pandemic. "This rapid antibody-based blood test will conduct community and cluster screening to detect possible carriers of novel Coronavirus besides helping to know the impact of the virus in the identified red zones", she said. She said that this test does not prove whether a person is positive or negative for COVID-19 at a given point of time but will only detect the presence or absence of antibodies against COVID-19 in a person to tell that the person has been exposed already to the virus and assess the seroprevalence.
"The aim of the rapid test is not diagnosis but with these tests, we will come to know whether the Coronavirus has got established in a community in the identified red zones," she said. In this regard, the necessary training for health professionals will start tomorrow. Pertinently, the ICMR has advised antibody tests in COVID-19 hotspots which will ensure faster detection of cases and clusters and guide the authorities to further focus the hotspots to contain community spread. Only the persons testing IgM antibody positive (indicating fresh infection) in the rapid test, the PCR test has to be done to confirm the result.
While the antibody test is based on blood samples, the PCR test is based on Oro/Naso-Pharyngeal swabs. Dr. Shashi said they had a good experience in Molecular Epidemiological tracking by Real-Time PCR which is the gold standard world over and is optimistic towards containing this deadly infection. In order to increase the testing capacity, Cartridge Based Nucleic Acid Amplification Test (CB-NAAT) has been started at the Intermediate Reference Lab. at the Chest Diseases Hospital, Jammu which gives faster results and also helps the clinicians of all specialities in assessing the status of the suspects before surgeries and procedures.
Dr. Shashi said that the department had limited resources in the initial stage but with complete support and guidance from the Union government we have been able to enhance the overall capacity both in terms of infrastructure and human resources and without the administrative support this would not have been possible. "We have expanded our diagnostic services and are receiving well-researched guidelines from the ICMR for conducting rapid COVID-19 test in the GeneXpert platform. We have received customized cartridge for rapid COVID-19 test in the GeneXpert platform and have performed 95 tests already and benefitted many surgeons already," she said adding that the test result is available almost in an hour.
She said that this will prove to be of great help in emergency cases and policies would be institutionalized to clear the apprehensions of the doctors on this account. GeneXpert, a doorway to wider testing capacity was widely developed to rapidly detect Tuberculosis. She said that the aim of introducing newer technologies is to test more people and to decrease the Turn around Time(TAT) in order to fast identify the COVID positive patients and isolate them at the earliest.
"We have started aggressive testing at our diagnostic lab. and currently, we have 200 tests per day and Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction (RTPCR) technology is being used for diagnosis as a front line test," she said. She added that central reference agencies are issuing guidelines from time to time in order to improve things and we are trying our level best to implement those guidelines with utmost care. She said that all the departments are working in a coordinated manner in the battle against the Novel agent. She said that we have extended the diagnostic services at IIIM CSIR Jammu and have received a lot of support from them.